There’s an oft-told tale about John Huston’s method of adapting THE MALTESE FALCON for the silver screen. The way the story goes, Huston was on his way to lunch (i.e., a bar) and told his secretary to take the novel line by line and convert it to the standard screenplay format. And that’s just what she did, and that’s pretty much the shooting script they ended up with. I don’t know if the story is true but Huston’s directoral debut was as faithful a book-to-screen adaptation as one could hope for. And why not? Dashiell Hammett’s second novel is practically the Rosetta Stone for film noir.
THE MALTESE FALCON is hands-down my favorite movie. There’s nothing I don’t love about it. So I’m as giddy as a kid at Christmas that Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events are screening THE MALTESE FALCON this Sunday (with encore screenings Wednesday) for the film’s 75 Anniversary. Seventy-five years, amazing! This was the last, best adaptation of the book after a spotty run. The expectations weren’t high and in many ways the studio perceived it as “B team” effort. Bogart was not the first choice to play Sam Spade. This project probably saved his career and launched him to the stratosphere after years of struggle. Sydney Greenstreet’s performance is already perfection but add to the mix that FALCON is also his screen debut and it’s startling how good he is. Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook Jr. — all pitch perfect in their roles. Huston‘s approach to staging and shooting the film created a new look and filmmaking vocabulary.
Enjoy THE MALTESE FALCON in a theater near you this weekend. And here are some links for some more tidbits on the movie and the lore.